In the post-pandemic world, customers have experienced unprecedented disruption. They changed their purchase habits, focused on different products and services, and switched brands that offered them the right experience. Retailers, too, understand the importance of converting customers on any channel. Over the year, they have been operating at a higher level of digital readiness to meet customer needs.
As the in-store experience remains in limbo in many parts of the world, meeting customers on new channels requires integrating multiple shopping experiences together.
What is omnichannel retail?
Omnichannel retailing is a transaction that can be taking over multiple shopping mediums, such as an eCommerce store, a marketplace, or a brick-and-mortar store. Before the pandemic, omnichannel retail was a way for retailers to blur the lines of physical and digital sales, making the shopping experience more convenient. Today, however, an omnichannel experience is much more than a nice-to-have.
Why is omnichannel retail on the rise?
To say that customers have changed how they shop is an understatement. We discovered new ways to work, shop, and spend time with each other. According to research by The Drum, online orders remained up 54% year-over-year even when many non-essential reopened towards the end of 2020.
All this points to that being online is not enough. Brands must keep innovating to stay ahead of the consumer behavior curve. The omnichannel approach helps them remain on the customer’s radar regardless of the shopping channel.
For larger multichannel brands and B2B sellers, omnichannel retailing means approaching sales channels such as B2C, B2B, eCommerce, and physical selling holistically. They must build in the capacity to pivot to lesser-known selling models such as B2B2C and D2C (direct to consumer) sales without disturbing existing businesses. Many are already creating their multi-vendor marketplaces or selling on third-party marketplaces to build resilience and minimize risk.
In either case, omnichannel is a critical component of retail and will be with us for quite some time. We’ll likely see more of omnichannel retail as it becomes a key pillar of sales.
Omnichannel vs. multichannel
With a growing interest in eCommerce, it’s only logical that omnichannel and multichannel retailing are getting attention. However, multichannel refers to selling across many different, usually disconnected channels. Traditionally, large multichannel brands operate siloed marketing and sales channels, leading to a brand experience that is slightly different across channels.
However, just because the brand is multichannel doesn’t mean it’s omnichannel, too. In multichannel shopping, the customer experience is not consistent, meaning that every touchpoint is different. Inconsistent experiences lead to frustration and can cost you sales.
Let’s consider a retailer that sells via their eCommerce site, Instagram, and a physical store, each with a separate marketing and shopping experience.
By tracking visits and sales on Instagram without tying them with eCommerce, they’ll lose out to a competitor that can recognize, track, and market to customers on these channels. The omnichannel brand can offer consistent, personalized product suggestions, notifications, or display ads across these channels.
Benefits of omnichannel retailing
Technological and economic situations don’t sit still, and legacy retailers that dominated their industries must now act fast to keep market share. Customers are looking for convenience, better prices, and broader selection, and they want it all in a personalized experience. With an omnichannel retailing strategy, you’ll stay top of mind with customers, increase visits and sales. Here are some other reasons omnichannel is so important:
- Reach customers easily.
Customer journeys are rarely linear, but when they’re ready to buy, you better be there. A convenient shopping experience was always crucial to customers, but the pandemic made it even more so. With a unified message across selling channels, you’ll address customer needs wherever they are in the customer journey and increase the likelihood of a sale.
- Stand out from the crowd.
Competition is increasing, and standing out from the crowd is getting more complex every day. Whether your customers reach you through social media, your website, or a third-party site, every channel can complement the other. You’ll have better data to work with to appeal to customers in a unified manner.
- Stay consistent.
No single channel is ideal for every situation. Allowing customers to reach their goals regardless of channel will help them remember you, and gets them to come back. A unified, personalized message reduces irrelevant information, which minimizes friction and boosts customer satisfaction.
How to build an omnichannel strategy
No omnichannel strategy is the same, so your specific method of creating an omnichannel retail business will be unique to you. Here are the general steps required to set you on the right track.
Ensure consistency between your selling channels. If your physical store and digital presence feature separate product information, inventory levels, or pricing, take care of that first. Once this data is connected, ensure it stays consistent over time. For example, when a new product is added or purchased, all channels should reflect the latest information immediately.
Whatever you sell, customers will likely discover your brand or product in several ways. They may search on Google, see your advertisement, or drive by your physical location. These journeys can be reordered and reconfigured, but an omnichannel strategy makes this process challenging. Visualizing the path customers take will help you unify your message.
Omnichannel encourages loyalty, repeat purchases, and larger order sizes. A flexible omnichannel retail strategy will help you pivot into new selling models such as B2B, D2C, or a marketplace. Reacting to opportunities in time exposes you to new customer segments and helps you conquer new markets.
Selling on unified channels means accurate data across all channels, requiring real-time visibility into inventory, product data, and sales activity. The solution is real-time integration of eCommerce, ERP (enterprise resource planning), PIM (product information management), and CRM (customer relationship management) systems.
These days, omnichannel retailing is not an option. Customers are used to a new way of shopping and gravitate to brands that can meet them at their place and time. Successful brands respond to these trends and learn to use various data and tools to get customers to notice, and ultimately, purchase more.